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Public Calls For Rational Police Pursuits - 2 Officers Charged

Posted by Jane Akre
Friday, May 09, 2008 10:50 AM EST
Category: On The Road, Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Police Pursuits, Wrongful Death, Auto Accidents, Head Injury, Motor Vehicle Accidents

Ashley McIntosh killed by a police pursuit.

                  Ashley McIntosh                               

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IMAGE SOURCE: Ali Carter Memorial Web site Courtesy: Leigh Griffis; Website of Dr. Robyn Silverman on Ashley McIntosh; Sarah Phillips Courtesy, John Phillips, PursuitWatch.org

 

A Fairfield County, Virginia police officer has been charged with reckless driving for crashing her cruiser into a citizen's car and killing the driver.    

It’s one of the rare times a police officer - in charge of protecting the public - has been charged with putting the public in danger.

Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond Morrogh said that 22-year-old Officer Amanda Perry showed a “momentary lapse of judgment” deserving of a criminal misdemeanor not a manslaughter charge. 

The family of the victim, 33-year-old Ashley McIntosh, thinks otherwise.   

Sister, Meredith Heller, tells the Washington Post, “I guess Ray Morrogh finds a momentary lapse of judgment, which results in an officer killing my sister, acceptable. Whereas I, as a citizen, cannot. I would be curious to know, if the roles were reversed, what charges would my sister have faced.”

Last February, Officer Perry was driving north on Route 1 in response to a reported fight.

Perry’s emergency lights were on, as dictated by policy, but she was not using her siren, according to witnesses, when she drove into an intersection against a red light.

The police cruiser hit a Toyota Corolla pulling out of the Mount Vernon Plaza shopping center.  The driver, McIntosh, a kindergarten teaching assistant, had the green light and was turning north when her car was hit on the driver’s side.

McIntosh was thrown from her car. The teacher, who was engaged to be married this summer, died the next day.

Officer Perry, who had been on the force for a year, was not injured.

The police union president, Officer Marshall Thielen, told the paper “I’m concerned that this type of charge could have a chilling effect on our officers in the future, in their decision-making process, as we attempt to serve the public.”

In charging the officer, Morrough said she was supposed to have her lights and siren on and proceed cautiously when entering an intersection against a red light.  Perry had not met those standards.

In a separate case, Illinois State Trooper Matt Mitchell is facing two counts of reckless homicide and two counts of reckless driving in an crash that killed Jessica Uhl, 18 and her sister Kelli, 13, the day after Thanksgiving last year.

Just after noon, Trooper Matthew Mitchell was travelling at 126 mile per hour and was talking on his cell phone and radio at the same time while responding to a wreck in which the injured passenger was already in the ambulance. He had reportedly been told not to hurry. 

This was Trooper Mitchell’s third crash with citizens, among them one that resulted in a $1.7 million judgment. 

“It’s a pretty high standard to being charged,” Professor Geoffrey Alpert tells IB News. He’s been studying police pursuits for 25 years and is with the University of South Carolina’s Criminal Justice Department.

Despite the fact that at least 400 innocent civilians are killed and 4,000 injured during police pursuits every year, Alpert says law enforcement is well aware of the dangers but some departments don’t want to remove pursuits as a tool of law enforcement. “They don’t care, they just want to count deaths on the freeway,” he says.

Candy Priano hears from families around the country who have had loved ones killed in police pursuits.

Priano founded the citizen group, Voices Insisting on Pursuit Safety, after her daughter, Kristie was killed in the back of the family minivan on the way to her high school basketball game by a police car in pursuit.    

Priano and Alpert both believe the national death toll may actually be at least twice the 400 estimated deaths because police don’t count victims who die days after a collision, such as McIntosh, or pedestrians killed in the course of a pursuit.

It may be the sheer numbers of people being hurt across the country who are connecting with each other through the internet and creating a groundswell of citizens groups saying enough is enough and calling for responsible police pursuits.  

Sarah Phillips killed during police pursuit

  Sarah Phillips

Ali Carter killed during a police pursuit

       Ali Carter

 

John Phillips and his family formed the advocacy group, Pursuit Watch, after Phillips’ 20-year-old sister Sarah, was killed by a police cruiser traveling 70 mph.

The mission of Pursuit Watch is to encourage pursuits only when there is an imminent and immediate danger to the public. 

“We’re not about police bashing,” says Phillips who founded the group along with his late father, Jim.

Phillips has helped Orange County develop one of the most responsible and restrictive pursuit policies in the nation, which sometimes means there is no chase. Its adoption follows a similarly restrictive policy by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in the fall of 2003.

“There’s been a groundswell but it takes time” Phillips tells IB News.  At first his group met with resistance and the police had a mixed reaction, but he says over time the new policy has been accepted.

“Sometimes the police forget their job isn’t to catch the bad guy but to protect the community,” he says. “I don’t doubt their sincerity but the public is starting to get it saying this happened in my neighborhood.”

The turnabout in public attitude is being seen outside of Florida.

Just last month, a newspaper editorial said an “appropriate settlement,” referring to the million dollar settlement reached by the city of Bowling Green, Kentucky and the family of 20-year-old Allison “Ali” Carter.

The Western Kentucky University student was killed instantly in April 2006 by an officer exceeding the speed limit and on call, without his lights or sirens on.

Family attorney, Phil Grossman (and IB member) says that editorial represents a turnabout in public opinion.

He tells IB News, “Bowling Green is a smaller city very protective of their police. The local news paper saying the results were appropriate can encourage better police practices that would prevent serious injury and death to innocent citizens of the city of Bowling Green.”

Grossman says the attitude about police can be seen in focus groups. “Citizens are pretty angry over that conduct,” referring to citizen’s reactions when they see officers speeding past their cars.

While the officer in training has received remedial training, the Carter family has offered to contribute financially to establish a training program for city police officers to encourage safer practices.

The family has not heard back from the department, Grossman says.

Professor Alpert says he too has seen a shift in the public attitude.  He found after conducting a public opinion study in Baltimore “the more the public knew about the consequences, the less they supported them.”

Among those responding to the Washington Post newspaper article about the McIntosh case, more than half took issue with the police.

jw1123 wrote:

 

Too often, police officers think that they are above the law. Ms. Heller is right, the charges were too lenient. This kind of charge SHOULD have a chilling effect on officers in the future, they should exhibit discretion over how fast they drive, when they use their lights, and should abide by the same laws that they enforce on everyone else.

5/3/2008 12:25:33 PM

matrox wrote:

Cops always breaking laws they paid to uphold. How many times have seen speeding cops speeding from stoplight to stoplight? Tailgating and forcing drivers into the right lane? A few months ago a cop flew past me on a residential thorofare doing about 45 in 25mile zone only to find him pull into a 7/11 where about 5 or 6 squad cars were with cops at the far end of the lot standing around BS'ing drinking coffee. This about 11 or 12 at night.

5/3/2008 11:31:39 AM

clearthink wrote:

How much more tragic can anything be??

When an innocent life is extinguished by someone hired to protect us all -- well, the whole police department needs to be held accountable. The young officer who killed the motorist is an extension of an overall system (police, prosecutors, etc.) that is way too insulated and suspect. People naturally take notice of this and react accordingly.

5/3/2008 11:07:13 AM

 

McIntosh was a popular athlete and softball player at West Potomac High School.  At Clermont Elementary she had bonded with her class of youngsters, friends say. 

And what may have made police acutely aware of the sensitivity of the McIntosh case were the more than 1,000 names signed to a petition. Circulated online by Dr. Robyn Silverman, the aunt of one of McIntosh’s students, among others, it called for Fairfax police to conduct a fair investigation of their own officer.    

There’s been no word so far on how fast Officer Perry was traveling at the time she drove her cruiser into McIntosh’s car, but what is now known is that the incident she was responding to turned out to be two men apprehending a suspected shoplifter.  #


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